The port plans to hire someone to patrol the bay
and harass fish-stealing mammals, which have been
blamed for munching up to half the sport catch in
the bay last year.
Plans also are to blast water at sea lions
lounging on port docks as well as discontinue the
discharge of salmon carcasses into the bay.
The effort is being billed as a blueprint for how
other ports can curb fish losses to mammals without
hurting them while staying within the boundaries of
state and federal laws.
"It's now so far out of control that it's
threatening the sport-fishing industry," says Pete
Dale, the port's general manager. "Well, we're going
to make their lives uncomfortable here.
"We're not just going to solve this program in
Gold Beach," Dale says. "We'll resolve the problem
along the whole Oregon coast."
The port has state and federal permits to begin
the hazing as early as Saturday, but the port has
yet to hire its pinniped patroller, Dale says. While
the rubber bullets remain an option, plans are to
first use the seal bombs once the hazer is hired and
trained, Dale says.
The program will be bankrolled by the Curry
Sportfishing Association, which is ready to spend as
much as $40,000 to reverse what members see is a
problem tarnishing the lower Rogue's fishing
reputation that community has guarded for decades.
Gold Beach guide Mark Lottis says anglers calling
about fall chinook trips ask more about the sea
lions than whether fishing is good or bad.
Others say customers left their fall chinook
salmon trips last summer vowing not to return
because of their sea lion hassles.
"When you lose a fish to that thing, people can
become untied real fast," Lottis says.
"We want to get it to where people can go fishing
and not worry about that aspect of it," Lottis says.
"That's what we can hope for. It certainly would be
worth every penny."
So far, only state and federal employees have
been actively hazing sea lions away from salmon.
That effort largely has focused on the Columbia
River, where federal biologists estimated that
mammals alone gulped 3.5 percent of the spring
chinook at Bonneville Dam.
"This is the first time a local jurisdiction,
funded by a sportsmen's group, has stepped up to do
it themselves instead of whining about it," says
Garth Griffin, supervisory fish biologist in the
NOAA-Fisheries' office in Portland. "They're doing
And right means within federal laws.
Healthy populations of harbor seals, California
sea lions and Steller sea lions live year-round in
the Rogue estuary. They are all protected under the
Marine Mammal Protection Act, which bans all harming
and harassing of these species.
However, the act contains a provision that people
in the act of fishing can use non-lethal deterrents
like seal bombs to ward off seals threatening to
take a fish away, Griffin says.
"We're not allowing anything to be done that
harms these animals in any way," Griffin says.
However, if the seal bomb accidentally kills a
wild coho salmon or other threatened species, then
that hazing runs afoul of the federal Endangered
Likewise, Steller sea lions are protected as a
threatened species and cannot legally hazed by
anglers in the act of fishing, Griffin says.
But the port, through state and federal permits,
has the authority to haze Steller sea lions stealing
fish in the bay as well as California sea lions and
harbor seals without the hazer being in the act of
fishing, Griffin says. They also have an incidental
taking permit should a wild coho get killed in the
process, Griffin says.
Griffin has been working with port officials and
Rogue estuary anglers for more than a year on this
Last year, anglers took advantage of their
new-found knowledge about legal seal-hazing in a
hodgepodge of activities.
"Everybody was doing their own thing," Lottis
says. "People were throwing their own seal bombs and
it was getting out of hand."
By consolidating the effort through the port,
hazing can go on in a more systematic way throughout
the day and results could be measured.
"We're all thinking this is going to be a good
deal," Lottis says.
So far, attempts to keep sea lions off port docks
and wave breaks has been rather unsuccessful, with
the 1,200-pound critters breaking obstacles, Dale
The port already has stopped the practice of
anglers placing filleted salmon carcasses in a tube
that dumps them from the fish-cleaning station to
On a trip to the bay last year, Griffin says he
watched one particular sea lion last year sat at the
base of the tube, barking, all day.
"I could hear him all over the bay, like he was
yelling to the gods to drop another carcass to him,"
While this veritable chumming for sea lions is
over, Dale and Lottis hope the salmon gods are
smiling their way when the pinniped patrols begin.
"Let's hope it works," Dale says. "I'm open to
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or